Dr Ismail Kathrada was born in Verulam in 1926. The Kathradas were a pioneering Indian family, who were among the first to settle in Verulam, when they arrived from Kathor via Mauritius in 1885. Ismail Kathrada received his primary education at Umdloti Mission School, his higher education at Sastri College and then studied Business Administration at M L Sultan Technikon. He worked as a retail salesman, before joining Kingsgate Clothing Group (KCG), one of the largest clothing manufacturers/wholesalers in Southern Africa, as a director, until he passed away in June 2007.
Dr Kathrada displayed a keen interest in public work from a young age. His friends were the children of workers in the sugar industry, many of whom lived in what was termed “workers’ barracks. They survived on insufficient food and the adults slept on wooden structures and the children on the floor, on sheets made from white mealie and mealie meal bags. This poverty triggered his conscience and infused him with a determination to serve humanity in the field of social welfare. He considered this his “calling”.
Dr Kathrada was a keen sportsman. He played soccer and cricket competitively, and tennis, socially. He captained North Coast in the Inter District Natal Cricket Competition and was an administrator for many years.
Dr Kathrada married Fatima Moolla, the daughter of Dr A M Moolla in 1949, and they had one daughter, Aasiya. Dr Kathrada consulted Dr A M Moolla on many issues, finding his father in law a source of sound advice to which he attributed much of his later success. The respect was mutual and Dr Moolla invited him to join the family business. Within a few years, he was elevated to a directorship in February 1964.
Dr Kathrada often quoted an Indian philosopher “ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT, TAKE WHAT YOU GET, USE WHAT YOU GET TO GET MORE”. This philosophy prompted his entry into the political arena where he was involved in the South African Indian Council, the President’s Council and the House of Delegates. He was elected to the House of Delegates in August 1984. In February 1986, the State President, P W Botha, appointed him as Minister of Health Services and Welfare. When Mr J N Reddy resigned as Minister of Budget and Auxilliary Services in May 1987, Dr Kathrada was asked by the State President to take over this difficult portfolio which he held until September 1989. Aside from his involvement in the political arena, Dr Kathrada served on a number of bodies, which are too numerous to mention.
Dr Kathrada received numerous “honours” in recognition of his enormous contribution:
- Honorary Fellowship, College of Medicine of South Africa
- Honorary Member, Gujerat Educational Council – India
- Administrator, A M Moolla Charity Trust
- Honorary Recognition, Verulam Municipality
When Dr A M Moolla passed away in April 1980, Dr Kathrada was appointed Administrator of the A M Moolla Charity Trust, which had been formed in November 1959.
Dr Kathrada was well travelled, both locally and internationally. Despite the many positions that he held, and awards that he received, he remained humble throughout and committed to political freedom and social and economic justice, so that everyone would have the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
Dr Kathrada passed away on Saturday, 30 June 2007, at the age of 81, from natural causes. While most remember him for his contribution in the public sphere as a politician, philanthropist, educationalist and businessman, to his family he was a loving and caring “fatherly figure” and pillar of support, whose contribution is etched in their memories.